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Tourism on upswing in Sarasota County after winter, 2023 slowdowns

Image courtesy of Visit Sarasota County
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Tourism rose in March in Sarasota County after months of a downward trend, according to Visit Sarasota County, the tourism arm for the area. 

“After a few months of our tourism numbers being down, in March we're excited to share strong numbers,” Visit Sarasota County President/CEO Erin Duggan says in a statement. 

Compared with 2023, visitors to Sarasota County were up this March by 1,300 people; there were 159,400 visitors this year compared with 158,100 in March 2023, according to Duggan.

The increase in visitors was also reflected in Sarasota County hotels. Room nights sold totaled 385,000 in March, compared with 379,600 last year, an increase of 5,400, or 1.42%.

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, or SRQ, also saw a spike, setting a record for passengers, with more than 553,000 people traveling there in March, the Business Observer reported in April. An SRQ spokesperson attributed the uptick in part to spring break visitors.

For those staying in Sarasota County, rates for lodging went up year over year in March, tourism officials say. The average rate for lodging was $337.72 per room, compared with $312.37 in March 2023, marking a $25.35 increase.

Lodging occupancy was slightly down, at 83.9% compared with 84.7% in March 2023, officials say. However, the March number was up from 67.8% in January and 81.9% in February.

The lag in tourism in early 2024 was not limited to Sarasota County.

St. Petersburg also reported having a slowdown in tourism in the first couple of months of the year, in part due to cooler weather, followed by a comeback in March, when it had a record number of tourism development taxes collected.

The downturn lasted more than a couple of months. In 2023 in Sarasota County, visitation decreased overall compared with 2022, but there were slight increases in spending on rooms, restaurants, groceries and attractions, according to Duggan, who said the hurricane had to be a factor.

“Remember, some year over year changes were affected by Hurricane Ian,” Duggan says, “as many hurricane recovery workers were staying in Sarasota County whose spending habits differ from leisure visitors.”



Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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